The much-anticipated Maroquinerie de Louviers has opened in Normandy. Designed by Lina Ghotmeh – Architecture, the low-slung brick building with a courtyard at its entrance is part of Hermès’ expanding hub of workshops in the region and will employee 260 artisans. Trained through the Louviers École Hermès des savoir-faire, opened in 2022, they will be dedicated to leather goods, including the craft of saddlery.
Because this is the first equestrian workshop to be established outside of Paris – the oldest of the French brand’s métiers, saddle-making takes centre stage in the space – the architecture was inspired equal parts by the brand’s famous silk carré and by the graceful movement of horses. Specifically, its varied arches riff on the trajectory of the jumping horse caught mid-air on camera by Edward Muybridge.
But, as this is predominantly the work of Lina Ghotmeh, the site’s history played a major role in the 6,200-square-metre project, which feels like a modern-era combination of the time-honoured forms of the quadrangle and the arcade. Known for her espousal of the phrase and the practice of “archeology of the future,” Ghotmeh and her team began with an exploration of the context, a former industrial brownfield. They conducted multiple “excavations,” making note of Normandy’s wet, clay-like earth. (Meanwhile, the Hermès team directed its own archeological dig, and found Palaeolithic flint tools that might have been used in prehistoric leather work, as well as a horse’s jawbone – very fitting symbolism).
Employing this red-clay reference, Ghotmeh chose to construct the project with wood beams and walls made of brick – 500,000 of them, manufactured locally from the site’s soil and carefully laid by master masons. “They have allowed the updating of their know-how all while re-establishing an intimate, emotional link to building,” she notes in her presentation on the project. “These bricks gallop along the building’s envelope, from span to span. They are orchestrated at nine-metre-long intervals, drawing a perfect square from face to face: the plan of this factory.”
Arches wide and narrow animate the building’s perimeter walls. Along the building’s entrance, they are fully open, inviting you into a trio of courtyards – a central one planted with an oak tree flanked by two slender green spaces on either side. Enter the building, and you are greeted by a gathering space with an art installation by Emmanuel Saulnier comprising seven stainless steel needles suspended by leather stirrup straps made in-house. Radiating from this core area are workshop spaces that link to each other through more glazed arches.
Beyond this poetic motif, Ghotmeh also put the building’s energy performance front and centre in her design plan. “I thought of the architecture in a bioclimatic way, responding to natural resources – an architecture designed intelligently in order to reduce the energy needs of the building,” she explains. With her team of engineers and specialists, she worked on several energy simulations to optimize consumption and natural lighting and model the implementation of renewable energy. Her interior palette was geared towards the least expensive materials with the lowest embodied carbon.
Altogether, the project encompasses both passive and active measures: It is positioned to take full advantage of natural light and ventilation, making up for the difference with geothermal energy (13 probes at a depth of 150 metres) and more than 2,300 square metres of solar panels. As a result, even though the Maroquinerie de Louviers is a factory building, it has met the stringent energy and carbon efficiency guidelines to qualify for France’s E+C- label; in fact, it achieves the highest level within that designation, E4C2, because it produces its own energy and has the “most efficient operation for carbon footprint reduction.”
The building is only part of the story. The landscape was also developed to both regenerate the toxic site and to re-introduce beauty to it. Belgian landscape architect Erik Dhont used soil excavated from the site to create three hectares of undulating gardens that retain most of the site’s original trees. A system for recovering and directing rainwater into the water table completes his design.
For Ghotmeh, creating a space so tied to its context is also about ensuring that those who use it will be happy. “When the building was delivered, I occupied a small office on several occasions to feel the life of the building,” she explains. “We feel a lot of good humour, laughter, moments of conviviality! I hope that the softness of the interior spaces allows this comfort and engages the artisans in positive relationships. Throughout the day the sound of the leather working tools is made musical thanks to the cozy spaces with the acoustic panels covering the walls and ensuring sensory comfort in the place.”
Specializing in saddlery, the Maroquinerie de Louviers is a workshop shaped like an Hermès scarf – and just as light on the environment.